The Ultimate Vinyl Record Guide
The ultimate guide to getting started with vinyl.
If you’ve decided to enjoy your favorite albums on vinyl, great choice. But where do you begin?
Vinyl records are steeped in history and have been loved for decades and decades by audiophiles everywhere. When you finally decide to hop on the record collecting train, it’s an exhilarating experience. The first time you hold a big, beautiful physical copy of one of your favorite albums, it all makes sense.
The experience of listening to music on vinyl is extremely enjoyable and engages multiple senses. Unlike streaming, which engages only your ears, putting a record on is a ritual full of pleasant tactile sensations that enhance your listening experience. The feel of the jacket, the interface of your turntable, even the smell of a vintage record evoke a wave of emotions for music fans.
All of these sensations make a strong case for listening to vinyl in themselves, but they’re far from all that records have to offer. With a distinctly warm analog sound and lossless audio quality, buying records is certainly worth the investment.
This article serves as a quick-start guide to vinyl records, covering all the important ground in one place. We’ll start with a brief history of vinyl records and work all the way through to the best methods of displaying your collection of albums. Whether you are a seasoned vinyl collector looking to learn more or a novice wondering where to begin, this guide has useful information for you.
Course 1 / 4 Lessons
Introduction to Vinyl
A Brief History Of Vinyl
The technology that laid the groundwork for what eventually became the modern record player can be traced back to none other than Thomas Edison. In the late 19th century, Edison invented the phonograph. This device
The technology that laid the groundwork for what eventually became the modern record player can be traced back to none other than Thomas Edison. In the late 19th century, Edison invented the phonograph. This device served as a precursor to the record player and was used to record and play back audio using a hand crank-powered needle for etching sound waves into a foil-covered cylinder. The recorded sounds could then be played back as the needle ran through the grooves left in the cylinder.
Edison’s original intention for the phonograph was a far cry from what it eventually evolved into. In Edison’s mind, the phonograph was primarily a recording and playback device, whereas the future reinventions of his initial concept ended up being used solely for playing back recorded music. Eliminating the recording element that was included in the original phonograph made the technology much more accessible to consumers.
Edison’s phonograph was later refined in the form of the gramophone. Invented in 1877 by Emile Berliner, the gramophone used similar technology to the phonograph. However, instead of recording and playing back audio from a cylinder, the gramophone’s needle instead read the grooves in hard rubber discs, which served as the precursors to vinyl records.
Without the two cylinders that were present in the original phonograph design (one for recording, one for playback), the gramophone had a much more user-friendly design with looks that distinctly foreshadowed modern turntables.
In the early 20th century, the transition was made from rubber discs to vinyl records, but the gramophone’s technology is otherwise relatively similar to that of the modern record player.
Since the introduction of the vinyl record, one of the most notable innovations that has changed the format was the introduction of stereo sound in the latter half of the 20th century. Originally, records were recorded and mixed in mono, meaning the same signal would come out of two speakers attached to a turntable that would come out of one. With the introduction of records in stereo, albums began taking on distinct sound qualities that were previously impossible to achieve with a mono mix.
After stereo became the norm for vinyl records, the format continued to offer unparalleled sound quality to listeners, even as other formats came and went. Other older formats of physical music like CDs and cassettes have become relatively obsolete over the last several decades, largely overtaken by the advent of digital music stores and streaming services.However, vinyl has stood the test of time, even making a major comeback in the last decade and cementing itself as a major part of the music industry over a century after the format’s invention. Vinyl is a music format loved and listened to by millions, and it is not going anywhere any time soon.
How Vinyl Records Offer Superior Sound Quality
Vinyl is known as a lossless audio format, meaning that, in contrast to digital formats, vinyl does not give you a signal that has been compressed in a way that causes some of
Vinyl is known as a lossless audio format, meaning that, in contrast to digital formats, vinyl does not give you a signal that has been compressed in a way that causes some of the highest and lowest frequencies to be inaudible. Compression is a major aspect of the mixing and mastering process in recorded music, making louder parts of a signal quieter and quieter parts louder.
However, the compression that is inherent in audio formats like MP3 and MP4 cause the audio to sound different from the originally mastered song. For a diehard fan of an artist or musician, hearing your favorite album on vinyl is one of the best possible ways to experience it as the artist intended.
You may be wondering if your ears will be able to discern the difference in sound quality between an MP3 and the lossless audio from a record. Although you initially might not sense a world of difference between the two formats, listening to records can train your ears over time to recognize “lossy” audio when you hear it. After listening to records and experiencing lossless audio, you will likely start to notice a sonic distinction between the lossy audio of digital music and the warm, analog, lossless sound of a record.
How Vinyl Records Made a Major Comeback
According to the RIAA’s sales statistics, record sales have been steadily increasing over the course of the last decade, even as streaming services have been on the rise. In 2019, over 19 million
According to the RIAA’s sales statistics, record sales have been steadily increasing over the course of the last decade, even as streaming services have been on the rise. In 2019, over 19 million records were sold, a 14.6% increase from the year before. This proves that statistically speaking, records are not going anywhere.
Since 2006, vinyl record sales have been on a steady yearly increase after dipping and fluctuating through the 90s and early 2000s. Vinyl saw this decline in the 90s and 2000s as CDs began to dominate the market. However, as streaming began to overrun the physical music market, CDs have largely gone extinct. Nevertheless, vinyl continues to prevail over other formats of physical music, continuing to retain its devoted following.
The vinyl format has prevailed over time due in large part to the collectible nature of records and the enjoyable experience of putting on a physical copy of one of your favorite albums. Even as digital music has continued its rise, devoted fans of analog sound have stayed loyal, and vinyl has continued to pick up scores of committed listeners in the last decade.
Why Vinyl Records Are Loved By DJs And Producers
Vinyl records, especially those in the hip-hop genre, have long been loved and collected by DJs and producers. Many in the music industry have a deep affection for vinyl because of its historical
Vinyl records, especially those in the hip-hop genre, have long been loved and collected by DJs and producers. Many in the music industry have a deep affection for vinyl because of its historical significance in musical culture. In addition, early DJs and producers would actively use hip-hop vinyl records in their music-making, spinning them live or pulling samples from them for use in their own songs.
In hip-hop culture, rare records are considered extremely valuable, and the rewarding experience of finding and collecting them attracts many. A physical copy of an album was a precious commodity for a DJ or producer for decades, not only as a source of inspiration but for use in live sets and recordings as well. The long-standing tradition of sampling in hip-hop began in a golden period for vinyl, and the vinyl record format played a major role in making hip-hop what it is today.
Many of today’s best-known producers have an enduring love for vinyl records. Whether it is for their sentimental value, their unique sound, or the creative benefits of listening to them, records have a distinct appeal with musicians that has spanned decades and transcended genres.
Course 2 / 4 Lessons
How Vinyl Is Made
When the original rubber discs spun on gramophones were replaced with the vinyl records that you use today, the transition gave way to a major increase in accessibility and sound quality for at-home
When the original rubber discs spun on gramophones were replaced with the vinyl records that you use today, the transition gave way to a major increase in accessibility and sound quality for at-home listening.
With the introduction of the vinyl record format and the commercial availability of record players, there was an immediate need for technology to aid in the mass reproduction of original recordings, known as masters. This technology has been refined over the years but is still used today to produce the records that you listen to at home based on a master recording.
Each vinyl record is a re-pressing of an original master copy of an album. This master is used as the reference point for all pressings of an album. A machine equipped with a precise lathe etches grooves into a lacquer master, each of which will produce sound when a pressing of a record is read by the needle of a record player. This process is completed for both sides of a vinyl. The lacquer masters for side A and side B of a record are then prepared to be copied in large quantities.
Using a technique known as electroplating, a lacquer master is copied into a format that can withstand the rigors of mass reproduction. These electroplated copies of the master are known as stampers. The stampers are hydraulically pressed onto hot vinyl. Each pressed copy of the stamper is then cut and shaped into an individual vinyl record.
An important aspect of vinyl to understand is the weight of a record. The standard for modern presses is 180 grams, which is 40-60 grams heavier than many records produced in the 20th century.
An important aspect of vinyl to understand is the weight of a record. The standard for modern presses is 180 grams, which is 40-60 grams heavier than many records produced in the 20th century. The weight of a record does not necessarily have an influence on sound quality. However, 180-gram vinyl records are widely considered the most durable among the different weights, making it the industry standard for modern records.
Vinyl Record Sizes
In addition to different weights, there are three standard sizes for vinyl records: 7-inch, 10-inch, and 12-inch. Each of these sizes of records can, as you might have guessed, hold a differing number
In addition to different weights, there are three standard sizes for vinyl records: 7-inch, 10-inch, and 12-inch. Each of these sizes of records can, as you might have guessed, hold a differing number of minutes of recorded music on each side.
7-inch records often contain singles, whereas 10 and 12-inch records are album-length. 12-inch records became the standard for albums in the latter half of the 20th century and have held their place ever since.
Vinyl Record Speeds
There are three standard speeds for vinyl records, each of which is measured in RPMs, or revolutions per minute. These speeds are 33⅓ RPM, 45 RPM, and 78 RPM. You may see records
There are three standard speeds for vinyl records, each of which is measured in RPMs, or revolutions per minute. These speeds are 33⅓ RPM, 45 RPM, and 78 RPM. You may see records of these speeds referred to as 33s, 45s, and 78s for short.
The faster a record spins, the higher the sound quality will be. However, 78s, which offer the highest sound quality, can only contain a few minutes of music per side, making their usability minimal for singles and nil for full-length LPs. In the latter half of the 20th century, the prominence of 78s containing one short single on each side began to give way to the widespread production of 33s and 45s.Many modern record players cannot play 78s and are only designed for use with 45s or 33s. Whether you are listening to an EP or an LP, if it is from after the 1950s, it is either a 45 or a 33. 33s are the most prominent records on sale today, although some bands still opt to release their EPs and LPs as 45s to achieve higher-quality sound.
Course 3 / 5 Lessons
What You Need to Get Started with Vinyl
How To Find A Good Turntable
Of course, one of the first steps in building your vinyl setup is finding the perfect turntable for you. Turntables are available in a wide range of prices, with some costing under a
Of course, one of the first steps in building your vinyl setup is finding the perfect turntable for you. Turntables are available in a wide range of prices, with some costing under a hundred dollars and others running for several hundred or even thousands. Before you choose yours, make sure you know the major differences between record players in the various price ranges. You can find a good turntable on a budget, but some are certainly better than others.
As a rule of thumb, most turntables that cost less than a hundred dollars are relatively cheaply made and may even damage your records. The entry-level price range for a high-quality turntable is usually between one and four hundred dollars. Turntables in this price range and above should be durable enough to run well for years.
In addition, a high-quality turntable should not put your records at risk of damage over time. Some cheap turntables have needles that are poorly designed and will put too much force on records as they spin. These turntables typically will not last nearly as long as higher-quality ones, which can often offer reliable use to listeners for decades.
A record player past the entry-level price range will usually run between four and seven hundred dollars. These turntables are investments worth considering for any audiophile, someone who is committed to getting the best possible listening experience out of each album they own.
The major difference between turntables in this price range and those below it is in sound quality rather than build quality. A two hundred dollar turntable may have just as durable of a build as a six hundred dollar one, but it will likely not produce sound of as high of quality when hooked up to a good stereo and speakers.
For entry-level record collectors, one of the best turntables on the market is the Audio-Technica AT-LP60X-GM. Priced at $100, this record player is well-built and affordable enough to satisfy the constraints of a tight budget.
If you are looking for a turntable that can stay with you for years to come as you progress on your record collecting journey, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC is a great option. Priced around $450, this is definitely an audiophile-grade turntable. If you have a more flexible budget for your listening setup, it is well worth it to invest in the Carbon DC or in a turntable in its price range.
Ultimately, the rest of your gear (your stereo and speakers) will make a major difference in sound quality as well, so it is crucial to make sure you have enough space left in your budget for a good sound system.
Why Needle Quality Matters
A record player’s needle, also often called its stylus, contains a piece of hard, unrefined diamond. The stylus picks vibrations up from a record as it spins, producing sound by routing to an
A record player’s needle, also often called its stylus, contains a piece of hard, unrefined diamond. The stylus picks vibrations up from a record as it spins, producing sound by routing to an amplifier through the turntable’s tonearm.
Attached to the needle of a turntable is its cartridge, which is responsible for turning the vibrations read by the needle into electrical signals, which can then be reproduced as sound. A magnet in the record player’s cartridge generates an electrical current as the needle reads the grooves of a record, carrying the electrical signal to an amplifier.
If your turntable contains a low-quality needle and cartridge, it will have majorly compromised sound quality. One of the most important components of your turntable is its cartridge. A well-made cartridge can account for a large portion of the cost of a good record player and is well worth the investment. Poorly made needles and cartridges not only produce subpar sound, but they can also leave your records damaged over time.
While some lower-end record players do contain built-in preamps and speakers, they normally do not offer a high-quality listening experience that accurately represents the recording. Cheaper record players with built-in amplification tend to
While some lower-end record players do contain built-in preamps and speakers, they normally do not offer a high-quality listening experience that accurately represents the recording. Cheaper record players with built-in amplification tend to be more of novelty items than legitimate means of experiencing music to the fullest.
Instead of using built-in speakers, the standard for enjoying records is to pair a great turntable with equally excellent speakers and an external preamp. Speakers are often more of an investment than a turntable and are as important to your listening experience as a high-quality turntable. As for a preamp, some turntables come with a preamp built in. If this is the case, you will not need to add an external one to your setup and can simply pair your turntable with speakers.
The best way to determine whether your turntable is equipped with a built-in preamp is to attach it to speakers and see how a record sounds. Without a preamp, your turntable will not be able to reproduce good-quality, loud sound even when attached to speakers. If you hook up your turntable to speakers, play a record, and it sounds great, with no distortion in the signal, this is indicative that your record player is equipped with a built-in preamp.
With either an internal or external preamp, you still need speakers to produce sound. When it comes to speakers for your record player, you have two primary types to choose from: active and
With either an internal or external preamp, you still need speakers to produce sound. When it comes to speakers for your record player, you have two primary types to choose from: active and passive.
Active speakers have built-in amplifiers, meaning they will eliminate the need for an external preamp by making use of their onboard amplification. Passive speakers still require a preamp but can be hooked up directly to your record player without requiring additional power.
A case can be made for both active and passive speakers. Many audiophiles and vinyl enthusiasts prefer to keep all the components of their setup separate. This means using a turntable, external preamp, and passive speakers. However, there are plenty of viable options for combinations of different types of gear that are capable of producing high-quality sound.
Speakers are one of the most costly components of your vinyl setup, but it is well worth it to go all in on them. When you are looking for the ideal speakers for you, a few considerations to make are your budget, what your turntable is equipped with in terms of a preamp, and the amount of space you have and volume you want to play your records at.
Some smaller speakers, often referred to as bookshelf speakers, can be purchased in pairs for a few hundred dollars, a much more accessible price point than many larger speakers, which can cost thousands of dollars apiece. Depending on your level of commitment to the vinyl format, larger, higher-end speakers may be a worthwhile investment. However, starting out with a decent pair of bookshelf speakers is sufficient for getting started with vinyl. A good set of smaller speakers can stay with you for years and may be the only pair you need for a long time.
Vinyl Record Care Supplies
Every vinyl collector needs tools in their arsenal to give their records the care they deserve. Curating and caring for a record collection comes with responsibilities and takes a commitment of time and effort, but the investment is well worth it. Taking good care of your records gives you a sense of ownership of the music you love and will allow you to enjoy them for decades to come.
One of the most important pieces of gear every record collector needs is a vinyl cleaning brush. This tool is equipped with special bristles that will help keep dust and dirt off your records and can be used for buffing out small scratches. If you have plans to collect vintage records, you will especially want to make sure that you have a brush handy to work on restoring them to as good of condition as possible.When it comes to taking care of your records, a gentle touch is key. Vinyl is fragile, as are the other components of a record like the jacket, sleeve, and any inserts. Each of these items deserves to be handled with care and routinely cleaned. In addition to cleaning and restoring records, proper storage is a must. Many record collectors opt to house each vinyl in a protective sleeve. Sleeves keep records safe from exposure to dust, dirt, and other debris, and they can be used to protect records that do not have jackets.
Course 4 / 4 Lessons
How To Start Building Your Record Collection
Old Vs. New Vinyl
When you start building your record collection, one of the first choices you are faced with is the dichotomy between used and new records. Since many newly released albums are available on vinyl, you can
When you start building your record collection, one of the first choices you are faced with is the dichotomy between used and new records. Since many newly released albums are available on vinyl, you can often find records by your favorite active artists at a record store just a few shelves away from classics from decades past.
There is a strong case to be made for starting out your collection with both old and new records. Rare copies of older albums are often prized by collectors, but there is still a place in every collection for newer releases.
Many diehard record collectors diligently seek after older pressings of classic albums, admiring them for their rarity, collectibility, and unique sound. Older pressings of records, especially albums from the earlier half of the 20th century, are often mixed in mono, meaning they will give you the same signal out of both your left and right speakers. For audiophiles, a mono mix of a classic album is desirable because it gives the listener the original intended sound as opposed to a stereo remaster.
However, one of the major drawbacks of buying vintage records is the potential for years of wear and tear to reduce the quality of your listening experience. When you buy a new record, you have a guarantee that it is in pristine condition and will sound great. Buying a vintage record comes with a level of inherent risk – you never know exactly what you are going to get.
If you choose to add used records to your collection, make sure you inspect them and assess their condition first. If you see deep scratches on the surface of a record, its playability may be in question, meaning you might want to pass on it as anything more than a display item.
Unique Vinyl Records
One of the most rewarding aspects of record collecting is the inherent beauty of a physical album. Owning a physical copy of an LP in the form of a record gives you a chance to
One of the most rewarding aspects of record collecting is the inherent beauty of a physical album. Owning a physical copy of an LP in the form of a record gives you a chance to appreciate the album’s visual elements, including the album art and any included inserts like posters, photos, and lyrics sheets.
In addition, there is plenty of potential for experimentation in the vinyl format. One trend that has surfaced in the last few years is colored LPs. These records look great, offering a collector something truly unique to display and listen to. Colored records are often considered collectors’ items and are widely sought after by enthusiasts everywhere.
Displaying And Storing Your Record Collection
When you have physical copies of albums that you love, they can be used for more than just listening. Records also make excellent home decor. You can line your walls with them on hanging shelves,
When you have physical copies of albums that you love, they can be used for more than just listening. Records also make excellent home decor. You can line your walls with them on hanging shelves, arrange them in a grid on a bookshelf, or even frame individual LPs to fill smaller pieces of real estate on your wall.
One of the best parts of using records to decorate your home is that they can be easily swapped out when you need a change of scenery. You can display the jackets of albums that you have on heavy rotation while keeping the records themselves available for listening. Just make sure you have protective sleeves handy to keep LPs safe from scratches and dust when their jackets are on display.
Adequate storage for your vinyl collection is also a must. Records need to be stored vertically instead of stacked on top of each other. The weight of a stack of records can cause LPs at the bottom to be warped by the ones on top. Instead of putting your records at risk of damage by stacking them, find a storage unit that can safely store your albums in a neat line. This will ensure that you avoid all potential warping and damage from improper storage.
Record storage does not need to be expensive, and you can even repurpose pre-existing storage in your home to make room for your growing collection of albums. A bookshelf makes the perfect spot for a long line of LPs and can even be used to display favorite albums facing outwards.
Many avid record collectors prefer to have a dedicated storage unit that can also hold a turntable and speakers. If you have the budget and the space, a record cabinet with space on top for your record-playing setup makes a great addition to your home and puts all of your vinyl gear in one convenient spot.
Ultimately, record collecting is a journey. When you get started, you don’t need to have an abundance of albums or the best turntable on the market. You can ease your way in slowly, enjoying the process of finding new LPs to enjoy. Vinyl as a format is here to stay, and if you aren’t on the train already, now the perfect time to get started.
Restoring Damaged Vinyl Records
When a record gets dirty, dusty, or scratched, you will notice issues with its sound quality. Because your turntable’s needle is running through the grooves of a spinning record, any interruptions from scratches or debris
When a record gets dirty, dusty, or scratched, you will notice issues with its sound quality. Because your turntable’s needle is running through the grooves of a spinning record, any interruptions from scratches or debris will disrupt the smooth, clean playback of the album. Some scratches are so deep and severe that they will render a record unplayable. Others will simply degrade the sound quality, adding unwanted noise and occasional disruptions.
If you are dealing with a particularly dirty or damaged vinyl record, there are special steps you can take to care for it and get it into listenable condition. The first step to take is gently dry brushing both sides of the record along its grooves. Using a dry brush will get rid of any surface debris without further damaging the record. In addition, buffing out small scratches can be accomplished through dry brushing, although larger, deeper scratches will usually need more heavy-duty attention.
For deeper dirt and damage, a record-cleaning solution is your best option. Using a specialized cloth, a small amount of solution can be used to wipe the record clean. This is a good second step after dry brushing and can act as a precursor to heavy-duty scratch removal work.
When it comes to severe scratches that have made a record nearly unplayable, there are only a few DIY options for repairs. Many record collectors have attempted to fix scratches by using a toothpick to dig out debris embedded in damaged areas on a record’s surface. Others will put wood glue on record scratches, then peel it off to even out the surface of the record. Unfortunately, both of these scratch removal methods come with an inherent risk of causing further damage to a record. This is something you obviously always want to avoid, and if you do not think you are equipped to adequately deal with severe damage to a record, it is often best to leave it alone.
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